Thursday, February 19, 2009

Skiing Etiquette According to the French Part II

This is the continuation of my Skiing Etiquette According to the French article.
3.] Even though I was once in ski school, learning how to ski, just like that little tot over in the school, I will still not change etiquette in order to accomidate their needs. They need to learn young French skiing etiquette, even if that means getting knocked down and shoved to the back of the line.
No matter where you go in the world, or where you ski for that matter, the ski school kids are really annoying. Not only do they fall off the lifts, causing sudden stops, but they also lose control and crash into people, or fall right in the worst spot on the trail and cause horrific traffic jams. They also get first priority on the lifts, so if there is a group of 20 kiddies, you can bet your wait will get longer. Yet, in the United States, we realize we were all in Ski School at one point. So we sort of suck it up, mutter under our breaths about the the nuissance that they are, and move on. Plus how can you be mean to a kiddie under 4 feet tall, who is having a ball, crashing into snow banks?
France is different, though. Ski School does not get first priority, for one. There are two lines, one for ski school and one for everyone else. It works out great because the ski school kids tend to fall on each other, and if I complained about the regular skiiers running over my skis, than it would be a living nightmare to have to wait in the line for students. The way it works is that each line is alternative, one from ski school gets on the lift, followed by one from the everyone else line, and so on and so forth. It seems incredibly fair t the paying customer, but after seeing the way it works, I sort of believe the big group of ski school kiddies might just work better.
A little tot, of perhaps 4 or 5, was the first in line for the ski school. It was obvious that it was his forst day skiing, and even perhaps his first time on the lift. He tightly held the hand of his ski school instructor, and kept asking her for reassurance. When it was his turn, he slid up slowly, while the ski school instructor followed closely in suite.
Until suddenly a booming voice came from the other line, "Excuse me, it is my turn!" Normally the French keep quiet about being cut in line, but this buxom women was visibly angry, and the ski instructor knew to back off.
The little ski schooler turned around with a look of utter horror as his instructor slid back into line, and a rather large angry lady took her place. He pushed forward, slipping and slidding and losing all confidence he had in himself. Needless to say he fell off the lift six times, before the large lady demanded to be put in front of him. I peered at the little skiier's face and it was red and teary- he was now officially terrified to commence with skiing.
4.] A special occasion such as skiing deserves a special feast to keep us warm and energetic. I know! How about wine and cheese! That always works!
Hot Chocolate. Granola Bars filled with Vitamins. Vitamin Water. Warm Meals of Hamburgers, chicken, and of course, Chilli. This is what I always eat after a long morning of skiing furidly down the mountainside at home. The whole family would meet at a designated time at the great big lodge and settle down for a quick meal to get back on the mountain. But I was skiing with a group of Winegrowers from Bourgogne, who can not possibly fathom a meal without cheese and wine. (For more on this, Read "A French-Fryed Thanksgiving")
And so for lunch, the group from Fixin assembled in a large lodge and feasted. Of course, I had brought my own lunch, a Tuna Sandwich and bar of chocolate, which merited a lot of glares. Even Andrew said, "Julie, that is all you are going to eat? No cheese? I brought Pepperjack from Wisconsin to share with everyone!"
I had a little picec of Pepperjack from Wisconsin, but the prospect of eating American cheese that had been shipped here in a regular box by Andrew's parents was a little uneasy. And plus, if you are going to eat cheese, eat good, real cheese. Eat French Cheese!
And so I did. Camembert, to be exact, which is my favorite. I suppose I have truly given up my old ways of thinking, and made way for new traditions. Even if that new tradition is stinky cheese.
And after the meal, as I began to put on my garments for a few more hours of skiing, I was stopped by the leader of the group, "Julie! Julie! Where ya going? You have not had a drink yet? I know you like Kir, here have a cup!"
Kir is Creme du Cassis mixed with White Wine. Actually, since the Creme du Cassis is ridiculously powerful because of the sugar, the drink is pretty strong, and I am pretty weak, so for the rest of the hour I could feel a slight buzz. But I was certainly not alone, since the rest of comrades, who had drank way more than one glass of Kir. And plus I was skiing in France after lunch. Everyone had had a glass of wine.
And those are the rules of skiing etiquette according the French. I felt the need to write them down because next week I will be skiing in CHamonix with my Dad, who is coming from all the way over the Atlantic. To Ski. With the French.
This should be good.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Skiing Etiquette According to the French Part I.

I learned how to ski at 9 years-old. It was a cold winter, as I bundled up in my Land's End ski suit in tiny Big Squaw Mountain, Maine. Honestly, I would love to be able to tell you that I had found my calling in that one skiing session. That as soon as those ski attached to my boots, I was skiing down that mountain like Peekaboo Streeks, and qualifying for a gold medal. But alas, I more or less learned how to fall on my butt, ski down a bunny slope with my skis in a snow plow position, lose control and nearly crash into a snow bank at 100 mph, and believe that I had, in fact, become a skiier.

It has taken my nearly 8 years to become a decent skiier. By decent, I mean, someone that can actually stop without the snow plow brakes, have control, not accidentally ski over Uncle Bill's ridiculously expensive Atomic skis, resulting in being chastised and the family joke for the next the three Christmas dinners (still scarred after that incident!)

But you can sort of say that skiing is in my blood. My Dad is an excellent skiier, and everytime I perched beside him on a ski lift, climbing to the peak of the mountain, he is either chatting along with other skiing neighbors, or reminiscing. He does that a lot actually. He loves to talk about how he learned to ski when his best friend brought him to the top of a mountain and said, "now you go down the mountain!" or how he used to ski in jeans and the lines for lifts would go on for hours and hours. But he especially loves to talk about his trip to ski in Chamonix, France, the only time he had ever been to France, but the happiest and greatest memory he had of his skiing escapeades. Of course, no perfect sleep is without it's few nightmares here and there. The one thing my Dad never failed to mention when talking about skiing in France, was the etiquette that had appalled him. Even though I had always listened closely, even forming my own hope to one day ski at Chamonix, I never really grasped some of complaints he upheld with the skiing etiquette in France.

That was until it was my turn to ski in La Belle France, amongst the French. Now I wish to bring you my life lessons of Skiing Etiquette according the the French.

1.] The person on skis in front of me in line? But, of course, we never wait in line. What a silly concept!
This is La Belle France, home of the lovely and always amusing French. They are often criticised for not having the decency to wait in line, and I can attest to that fact by just thinking about my school cafeteria waiting ritual (I refer to it as a ritual because no line exists, there is just one major stampede for the food.) There is no such thing as waiting in line in France, so waiting for the ski lift is a ritual as well.

My Dad, in his reminscing of the Chamonix trip, enjoys telling the story of one lovely French lady who tried to roll a head of him in line by ducking on her skis and practically crawling to the front. My Dad, put his pole down right in front of her, and shocked her nearly to death. "Damn, foreigner," she muttered. I always heard this story, but never truly HEARD it. That was until experience taught me exactly this.

While standing I was sure to note that the wait was a whooping 3 to 5 minutes depending on the size of the ski school at that moment. Yet, that did not stop a single person from searching for a crack in the line to exploit for cutting purposes. Since, I went with a group of my neighbors of Fixin, as I drew nearer to the lift, and furthur from the back of the line, people from Fixin who I had seen before but never actually met would come up to me and say, "Ahh Julie! Such a wonderful day, yes? You are an excellent skiier, how long have you been doing it?" The conversation would last long enough for them to slide in front of me and get a better spot in line than if they had retreated to the back of line like they were supposed to. I never spoke to most of them again after they had used me for a better spot in line, and being against my own morals, I never used them when they had a good spot in the line. Even when my dear friend, Clement called out to me from the front of the line to the back, "Julie come on up here and ski with us!" All I could think about was the snide remarks of fellow American skiiers waiting in line, "Excuse me, no cutting!" or "How rude! Don't you know how to wait?"

2.] He who stands in front of me is closer to the lift. But, of course, if I roll over his skis and push the line will go faster.
I mentioned before that I once skiied over Uncle Bill's expensive Atomic skis, and have still yet to live that down. However, there is one thing that should be said. I was a terrible skiier, and I could not stop without doing the snow plow position with the skis. It was an accident and I had no intention whatsoever of scratching the skis. Luckily, upon furthur inspection, the Atomic had not affected in the slightest. Just my moral, after being screamed at and called a bloody idiot for an hour.

On the line, whenever I lost control and accidentally skiied into someone in front of me or just grazed the back of their skis with my own, I was taught to profusely apoligize. If not, I would merit a horrible glance, or even perhaps a, "excuse me, watch where you are going!" It is unwritten rule in America that personal space exists on the skis, and you are in no way supposed to ski over or damage someone's skis.

Having skiied for just a few measly hours at a tiny ski resort in Jura, on a day that was virtually empty in regards to crowds, all I can say is that my rented skis took such a beating that I am surprised I was not charged a damage fee. Little kids excel at riding over skis, but little kids can be forgiven. Their parents, on their other hand, can not. On more than one occasion I heard a parent say, "Come now Brigitte, push a head or you will not get on in time!" or "Clement, just knock his poles out of the way and move along!"

Besides having to worry about being cut and pushed out of line, I now had to focus on trudging along in ski that were constantly being run over and crashed into by impatient French people. All I could think about was my Uncle Bill and the imaginary coronary he would have had, had he been in my ski boots in that exact moment.

>>>>....TO BE CONTINUED...<<<<

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Losing and Finding Oneself

When I had been an exchange student in Japan, I met a lovely Australian called Bron Parks, who loved Japan even more than I did. Both she and I shared many similarities, but were most connected through Rotary and our enamoration with Japan. During my last month in Japan, when I went through a Roller Coaster of emotions, outwardly worrying how I would be able to go go back to America, when I knew I belonged in Japan, Bron was there for me. She listened as I cryed on the phone about leaving, and understood what I meant when I dropped terms that only someone who knows Japan would understand.
She lived in Matsuyama for the entire year of 2007, and then returned to Australia and started University. She and I have kept in touch, and only having met twice in Japan, remain impeccably close through Facebook and email. Perhaps because each of shares a crossed path, a connection with Rotary, but I like to think that we are still so close because each of us has left a little piece of our heart in Japan. Bron returned to Japan in January, her summer vacation in Australia, much to my absolute envy. She stayed with host families, visited some of my favorite places, spoke both our second language, and lived the life I had left behind but never truly given up. As a good friend, she kept me posted about her travels through Tokyo, Osaka, Nara, and of course, Matsuyama. For me, it was a breath of fresh air to hear about Japan, and even quenched a thirst I did not even know that I had. Scanning through her Purikura, being able to name the sights in her pictures, and read the signs, and finally receiving a sad Facebook message from Bron, I realized something that I think I have known for all these years. "Julie," Bron wrote,

"You know how you say, 'where ever you go, go with all your heart?' im going home, but my hearts still suck in Japan.its like last year all over again." (The picture of one of the occasions Bron and I were able to meet in sunny Kochi, my second home away from home...)

I spent the entire day in the kitchen of the Bernards with my exchange student brother, and good friend, Andrew Ludwig. Together, we were baking American cheesecakes for our host families. He made a simple plain cheesecake, while I went out with a chocolate cake to be topped with cherries. He and I have spent a lot of time together these past few days, since the Bernards have been so kind to invite me for dinner, the movies, and to use their kitchen in the absence of my own host family. Hanging out, we have been making many memories, jokes, and living the French life. We spoke of many things, including our new found knowledge of the Burgundy France wine region, the Saint Vincent Festival, our flight over Fixin in the helicopter, our experience in the French school, the customs that I have such a hard time adjusting to (ex. Bisous.) among many other things. I wondered aloud if Andrew thought is was weird that we had gone to a bar the previous evening and drank beer with his host parents, or if he found a certain relationship eye-opening?
"No," he said, "but I find it weird, that I do not think it is weird. I guess I have been here too long." And I understood exactly what he meant. Because it is happening again.
Returning from Japan to my final year in High School, may have been the hardest thing I ever experienced in my life. I never meant to talk all that much about the year, and for how much Japan had become a part of me, I did a pretty good job about suppressing my memories. But not a good enough job, apparently. My friends quickly tired of Japan talk, and my Mom warned me on several occasions to stop talking about it. But I could not stop thinking about the place that I had left so much of myself at, where family resided, and where I learned so much. I found that I missed the little daily things that I never took time to appreciate in Japan. I missed the smell of the Tosajoshi hallways, Milk Candy, praying before eating, always feeling clean, the beeping sound at the crosswalks, convenience stores, all to name just a few.
No matter how much I think France does not seem to agree with me, or that I can never truly fall in love with this country the way I did in Japan, I find myself beginning to eat those words and feelings. It is, in fact, happening all over again: I am losing myself, and gaining things at the same time. Just as I did with Japan and Bron, I now have France and Andrew and Alex, to pour my heart out on about the experiences and the life I am living as a foreigner in a foreign country. Little pieces of myself are being chipped away as I throw old useless mindsets and adopt customs and cultural habits from my adopted countries. I suppose it is a good thing to shed the bad things about oneself in a foreign country, such as stereotypes, but what happens if you lose too much of yourself? What happens if you lose your heart, or at least leave it behind?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Where Are They Now?

In April 2008, Northern New Jersey Rotary district held a conference for it's future exchange students. There assembled a group of girls to represent their homes, families, and Rotary district while serving as an exchange student in a foreign country.

First, there was Suzy Steinhart, of West Orange, who had been the first to sign up, interview, and be excepted into the program. She had chosen Ecuador and India as her top choices, but somehow was assigned to Brazil.

Then there was the latecomers, who included, Zoe Kroessler. She had signed up to be an exchange student because her best friend had not stopped talking about her first exchange to Japan and her impending exchange to somewhere else. Perhaps it was this very reason, that fact that 30 second zould not go by without Zoe hearing, "My exchange..." Zoe was off to Belgium, which was never even considered until one of the Rotarians asked, "Would you like to go to Belgium?"

And then there was Brittany Barreto, who had interviewed a week before and came to the conference with no intention of actually going on an exchange, even though she had received her first choice, France.

And of course, there was one freaky girl, Jules Garner, who was going on a second exchange to France, which like Japan, had never even made the top part of the choice list.

That was us. The Rotary District 7470, Class of 2008-2009.

And now that the 4 of us are halfway through our exchanges, I thought it would be fun to answer the much sought after question, where are they now?

Suzy traveled to Belo Horizonte, Brazil in early August, and has had quite an experience to say the least. Even though I only met Suzy two of three times, she and I have become as close as two lost wanderers living on different sides of the planet can possibly get. I think it is safe to say that I Facebook Chat with her up to 2 hours a week, and listen to her wild crazy experience in Brazil. She has had the worst luck imaginable in host families, and yet, her experience has been magical. She has made the best of friends with others exchange students, especially those that already come from the Southern Hemisphere (Australians.) But if there is anything I have learned from Suzy it is that the best way out is always through. I do not know if it would be a great idea to share Suzy's host family experience, but let us just say that I myself do not I could have handled the things she was put through, which included families that clearly did not want to host, uninhabitable conditions, and extremely uncomfortable situations. The amazing thing is that these major problems do not seem to bother Suzy in the slightest, as long as she has full access to Belo Horizonte, her friends, the bars, and other ways to amuse herself. In the picture, Suzy is being a tourist a top the world-famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, Brazil. I would say that it is a fitting position for Suzy, but I have heard some of the things that go in crazy Brazil, and I do not if I can!

I could be very biased when talking about Zoe Kroessler. After all, her best friend, the one that could not stop talking about exchange and sort of forced Zoe into the whole scheme happened to be yours truly. I have known Zoe the longest and probably the best out of 7470 Class of 2008-2009 outbounds. She and I spent the entire summer of 2008 together along with our Mocha Frappucinos and Park Adventures. But oddly enough, I talk to her the least. (My Brazaillian bound buddy takes the number one spot for keeping in touch.) The reason why Zoe is in Belgium is another story all it's own, but for the most part, she likes it a lot. Her French has developed really well, probably because she had a strong base in Spanish. Even though her host family situation was difficult at first, she made a lot of friends with other exchange students and has been able to do a fair amount of travelling. She has an enviable attitude about her life in Belgium, though not always perfect, is still an excellent experience to be treasured and lived to the best of her ability. One thing I want to point out is that Zoe is wearing the same scarf that everyone in France wears, and I suppose Belgium as well. I personally think it looks like a snot rag, but then I also have the world's worst fashion sense.
My French-fryed companion, fellow Twilighter, party-animal, and good friend, Brittany Barreto and I can honestly say we would not be friends had we not had France and a equal love for traveling. Having stayed with her in Fountainbleu, just outside of Paris, I feel pretty confident in saying Brittany is having a great exchange. Even though she only spoke English with her first family, an unfortunate situation entirely not her fault, she is currently picking up France rapidly with her second family. She goes to a great school and has made a lot of friends, French and exchange students. She came down to Dijon to visit me for a a few days in January, and after hearing me ramble on and on about Japan, Brittany is now going on another exchange. In the picture, Brittany is the ultimate American tourist in Paris, France. In her Varsity jacket, she climbs the Eiffel Tower. Except she can speak French, so I suppose it would be unfair to call her a tourist.
And well, I think you know my story. Since I am not a fan of talking about myself (I know, I know that seems hypocritical if you are a follower of the blog!) But I want to say one last thing. The 4 of us are just normal, typical teenage girls of 17 and 18 years. After this year, however, none of us will ever be the same.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Another Reason Why Burgundy is the Best Place in France: REASON #2

Reason: It is the frigid, gloomy, grey month of February. Everything is dead, and when you live in a small village surrounded by vineyards, death is more pronounced. The sky is grey, it rains often and snows occasionally, life is absent. And yet... Burgundy is just as beautiful as ever. Sure, it is not blossoming with life in the vineyards, green and lively in forests and combs surrounding the tiny villages, or speckled with life of bikers, hikers, and people basking in the warmth, but Burgundy, nonetheless remains, beautiful and mysterious.

My American exchange student counterpart (and buddy) Alex Einstman realized the need for an American hang-out weekend. And so she planned another meeting of the Dijon Trois (Julie Garner, Alex Einstmann, and Andrew Ludwig) for some of our favorite activites, which include cooking, partying, and hanging out. It was really an important event for me, seeing as I was on theverge throwing away my French experience on the count of a misunderstanding and this very blog. I needed a weekend surrounded by friends more than anyone can imagine. After an excellent Saturday evening, in which Andrew sealed us out of the Dijon night club on the count of his looking way too young, and so having gone to a different bar and having just as much fun anyway. On Sunday, after a huge traditonal French Sunday lunch, followed by a good old American cheesecake created by the Dijon Trois, the host father of Alex decided it was time to drop Andrew off. We thought that was very nice of him, which would take the burden off Andrew of having to search out a bus fron Hauteville to Dijon, and finally from Dijon to Fixin. We figured he would drop Andrew off in the Mercedes. That was until we drive to the local airport and boarded Monsieur Faivre's helicopter.

"Andrew, right now there are probably two people in the entire world that get dropped off in helicopters. You and the American President Barack Obama."

This was my first time ever riding in a helicopter, and what better way than surrounded by friends and in Beautiful Burgundy? Of course, there are a few strange effects to having gone up in a helicopter in France. The first would probably be that the walkie-talkie things that you put on your head to hear other people are quite loud and blasting in French. French... It was sort of like a nightmare. The second strange side effect is the shock I felt about my orientation in this part of Burgundy. "Ah, look there is Chenove! I see my pool. And there is Marsannay, followed by Couchey, and finally Fixin. Then you have Brochon, Gevrey-Chambertin, and if you look right there that where Clemence Mortet's family grows Premier Cru wine. Did you know 9 or Burgundy's Premier Cru is grown here in Gevrey? Okay I think I can name at leat 6 of those fields... Then there is Moret St. Denis, and LOOK! Clos Vougeot!"

My flying experience over Burgundy really just took us over the Cote d'Nuit, which is the winegrowing region from Dijon to the town just after Nuit St. Georges. This is the place that I know very well, having spent almost 6 months living and learning here. I loved looking over the land, the high points of the land were dowsed in wintery white snow, while at midpoint it was covered in a light white dusting. Dijon in the distance was it's usual gray, not such a contrast to the sky, but heavily different to the light green forests and combs we flew over as we neared Fixin.

Fixin. From the air, the little villages became ever more distinct and separated than I could ever have imagined. To many who pass by and through the village, the names and places glop together as they sort of resemble each other in size and age. A true wine enthusiast would know the difference between Couchey and Fixin, but not many people could claim that right. Yet from the air, the 9th century Church of Fixey pinpointed exactly the village that Andrew and I have come to call home. We could not hide our excitement passing over the village and seeing the sights we knew best.

"Look it's the Bernard's Vineyard!" "Look it is my house! Charlotte! Coline! Anyone?!?!" "Do you see the Church of Fixey and the other church of Fixin? AH, look our school!"

Since Alex's host father could not drop Andrew directly at his house, or it might crush the surrounding vineyards, he dropped him off in the Fixin Combs, my favorite place in all of France. We waved enthusiastically as Andrew stood in the fields above Fixin waving at us, as we lifted from the comb and headed back to the Dijon airport.

Somewhere along the way, I remembered how much I love Burgundy. And I realized that I am not ready to give up. I will do what it takes to make things right again.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Hurting People We Love

I have royally messed up.

As you might be able to tell from reading my blog, I am not completely enarmored or in love with la Belle France. At least, not yet. After rereading my blog, half a dozen times yesterday, I realized that I did not fall in love with Japan either until February/March, even though from the way I feel about Japan now, one would never be able to tell.

My life in France is of the following: I wake up and go to school, which, let's face it, is somewhat torture for me. That may be a strong way to put it, but I do not like school, and I really have not made any lasting friends or even acquintnces that invite me to hang out here or there. I often feel that everything I do is wrong in someone's eyes. Most of the time it is just funny, often meriting a comical blog entry for future giggles. But some of the time, it hurts. I know my French is not good, and I know I make mistakes, but I also try so hard to be as perfect as I can. Yet, I do like it here a whole lot, and for one reason only. I have a great host family. Even after long days at school, when I have been laughed at for sounding like a sock puppet when speaking French, or was screamed at by the bus driver for putting the bus card in upside down, I get to come home and hang out with Coline, my hilarious host sister, Charlotte, my fellow Grey's Anatomy addict, Leonie, my host mom who is just really cool, Clemence and Antoine, who I swear are married, and Jean-Francois, who enjoys picking on me, but kindly. The host family was the one thing I could always rely on to make me crack a smile, keep me sane, tell me when I am doing something wrong, and make me really want to stay and finish this year here in France.

But I have messed that up now.

On Thursday night, after watching season 5 Grey's Anatomy with Charlotte, I went to the bathroom. When I came back, I was shocked to see her reading my blog. This blog. I over reacted and asked her to stop reading it. There is no excuse for it, but I suppose I was just shocked to see someone in France reading it. Of course while I write, I make sure to keep in mind that anybody can read this, including the people I write about. I never put anything in here that would hurt anybody. But, honestly, I did not think it would be of any interest to anyone here, since it is kind of long and written in American English. Even though Charlotte stopped temporarily to shut me up, as soon as I went to bed, she got back on my blog and started reading. And even though her English is not perfect, she found some things on the blog to be offensive, and asked Leonie to read it and verify if she was correct.

I never meant to hurt anybody. I never set out to write words that would hurt people I can not stand, yet alone people that I actually love. But I did. I hurt Leonie really badly. When she confronted me the next morning, I could tell that the things I said here on this blog had deeply offended her. She said things like I was not the person she had thought she knew, and she quoted passages from this blog that had bothered her. I agreed with her fully on the article, "The Monster," which I believe was deeply offensive to my host family. Not that I had set out to write it that way. I set out to write that article for my parents at home in New Jersey, who I knew would roar in laughter at the concept of a little girl farting at the dinner table. It is like Thanksgiving in our family. And I knew making my host family seem more realistic and human would help my family at home understand why I really like the Robert's and feel comfortable here. But, yes, I acknowledge, after rereading 'The Monster,' it was offensive. But I had a hard time understanding why the other things hurt so much. What I mean is that I understood clearly that they hurt her, but since I had wrote them because I found them to be funny and in no way offensive, it was hard to imagine that they so deeply wounded her.

I had always thought to myself that if they had found this blog and read it, that they would be annoyed at how many times I said, "I know I have said this before... but I really love my host family." My own Mom back at home gets annyed when I say how much I like my host family, "geez, Jule, what about us?" Yet, Leonie asked me during the confrontation if I even liked living with her family. My heart broke as soon as the words slipped out of her mouth.

Regardless, I had hurt my host family. I do not like hurting anyone, and I get overly sensitive and my conscience lags me down for hours until some sort of resolution is made. But hurting these people makes it so much worse, unintentional or not. The fact that my tear ducts no longer work from crying for 8 hours straight should give one some understanding of how upset I really was. Everything inside of me hurt, and I could stop shaking.

And as I listened, profusely apoligizing, and crying harder than I have ever cried in my life, I saw only one option: I could not stay here anymore. Of course, there is no where else to go. Rotary does not care very much about me, and when it comes down to it, the Robert's are my family, friends, and everything else I have in France.

In my mind, I had to go home. Back to America. I suppose it was being rash, when I made this decision in my mind seeing no other option. And I do not think Leonie believed me when I said I would go home as soon as possible. But I felt so deeply upset about this, that I truly believed it was the only way to set things to set things right. I thought in my mind that I wanted my host family to think me as the fun, somewhat complicated, intelligent American girl that stayed with them for a few months, rather than the gossiping hurtful American girl living with them presently. I did not want them to have to look at me and constantly think, "I wonder what bad stuff she is saying about us now..."

Leonie left for the United States this morning for a a week, but I made her promise me something. I made her promise me that she would think about whether she wanted me to leave. Even though she spoke to me as though I was mad, that they would not ask me to leave. I believe she even felt regretful for having brought the blog up, for how I reacted. But on some level, I am glad she did bring it up. I made a mistake, even though I fully do not comprehend why, I still hurt people, so whatever she says will be justified.

If anyone was ever hurt by the things I have said on this blog, in real life, or something else, then I am truly deeply sorry.

25 Random Facts

Since this blog is apparently offensive to some people in France, I decided to submit a post that has nothing to do with France. At least until the wind dies down, and some things get fixed.

ShareRules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. I was tagged with this stupid thing on Facebook at least 60 times, but I will not waste anyone's time on Facebook. I will just post it here instead.

1. I am a musician. I play the Japanese Koto.

2. The sound of the Spanish language makes me violently ill. It used to be all Romance languages, but I got immune to French. That is what happens when you live in France for a year.

3. If I was dictator of the world, my first act would be to make Thanksgiving an international holiday.

4. I think I would be a really terrible mother, that is why I do not really want kids.

5. However (referring to number 4) I like the names for girls Scout, Aimee, and Clem for girls. For boys I like Jack, Sam, and Shep.

6. I was raised to be a Parrothead and a Dead Head from two Republicans.

7. I would pay ANY price for a Mocha Frappucino. (I paid $10 in London, and my health in Paris.)

8. I get such dry skin on my face in the winter time that people think I have leprecy.

9. One of my life mottos is that even if you are not good at something, if you love it than that is all that really counts.

10. I am a Cross Country runner, a lap swimmer, a Francophone, and a speaker of Japanese. Why? Refer to #9.

11. In elementary school, I wanted to be the following; palentoligist, meteroligist, astonomer, astronaut, marine bioligist, and a spice girl.

12. I read Harry Potter and Twilight before the rest of the world did.

13. Japan and France were both not even on my list when I signed up to be an exchange student. Yet, here I am in France, thinking about my best year alive in Japan, and believing everything happens for a reason.

14. I believe not in God, but in religion. I believe in reincarnation, like Hinduism. I believe in finding Nirvana, like Buddhism. I believe in respecting our ancestors, like Shintoism. I believe in God, that he created the universe but it sitting back and letting it work itself out, like some sort of Christianity.

15. I won a medal for Modern Japanese dancing and was on National television for it.

16. I can touch my tongue to my nose.

17. My biggest fear is drowning. I was afraid to swim in pools for about 2 years.

18. Everytime I stand by the ocean, I feel peaceful and relaxed. But also insignifcant and small. I can not grasp the size of the great big water that connects us all.

19. I am learning how to cook. But I have a passion for baking.

20. Wine, Chocolate, and coffee define who I have become.

21. I cried for 8 hours today because my host Mom was mad at me. it was the first time I cried in 3 months.

22. I am a world-class goody two shoes. I hate being in trouble, my conscience collapses under guilt, and I am a terrible liar.

23. Most of my friends live on different continents, probably because I am so difficult.

24. I get all giggly when I drink a lot, and I speak Japanese when I am drunk.

25. I have a scar above my right eye from when I was a baby. I used to get made fun of for it when I was in school, and so I still am very shy about it.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Life in a Small Village

In a quiet suburban region in Northern New Jersey, there rests a small and close-knit town called Verona. It is the town that I grew up in having moved there when I was 3 years-old, and the place that I think about when people question me about my life in America. The home of the Hillbillies, Annan Flag Factory, and 20 nail salons, all in a tiny 2 square mile town. 13,000 people inhabit Verona, and I am quite certain that each person knows each other, at least on a first name basis. The kids can all name each other and which of the 4 elementary schools they attended, and probably even what sport teams they played on during high school. Nothing bad ever happens in Verona, and if something does, the whole town pulls together to fix it. That is probably why rarely anybody ever leaves Verona. Most of the kids at the school are 2nd or 3rd generation Townies, and even in High School, it is not an uncommon experience to hear students talk about coming back after college. But seeing as I have always been an oddball, I suppose it is not surprising that since the time I started Verona’s, H. B. Whitehorne Middle School, I had been ferociously planning my escape from that tiny town. In my mind, I could not fathom a place as small and restricted as Verona, where everyone knows your name and life is just safe, at best.

Then I was placed in Fixin, France.

All of those things that I thought impossible; a town smaller and a place more safe to the point of boring than Verona, had suddenly been realized. This tiny French village Fixin can not even be called a town. It is a miniscule village, and I have even heard people refer to it as a hamlet. There is just about 715 inhabitants in Fixin, all tucked away in the village that is surrounded by rolling vineyards. That sick part is that Fixin makes Verona look like a big city, and I can not help but chuckle when I remember complaining that nothing ever changed in Verona. At least in Verona, the houses change. In Fixin, people are still living in the same houses that they lived in 300 years ago, before America was even a country!

With only 715 people, the French who inhabit Fixin, surely know their neighbors by name, face, and house location. But cultural differences between the French and Americans change one slight thing about life in a small town. There exists a joke between foreigners in France, that when God stated the 10 Commandments, more specifically, the part about loving thy neighbor, he was not expecting the French to follow in suite. From what I have heard and seen, the people in Fixin are generally a close bunch compared to the rest of neighbors in France. Yet, nobody really cares about each others business here, and best of all, gossip barely exists. If the mayors daughter was caught smoking Pot on school property, the world would not be halted to a standstill, in fact, I doubt anyone would really care. By the time the story faded away from discussion, it would still the mayors daughter got caught smoking Pot on school property. Whereas in Verona, the story would have mutated into something along the following warped and insane lines: the mayor’s daughter got caught shooting heroin in the teacher’s office with her 30 year-old history teacher, who has been her lover for the past 6 months. This is all a protest to that fact that her father spends more time governing the town than paying enough attention to his daughter’s needs.

I believe that the good people of Fixin have different things to worry about than the fine people of Verona. For example, the wine growers can not concern themselves with gossip when they have to worry about the disappointing 2008 harvest season and how it will affect the industry. And the Verona Townies never mettle in matters of agriculture when there are football games to attend, gossip to spread, and worries of keeping Verona as perfect as possible.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Monster

This post has been taken down to offensive material to close friends and family.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Letter Home On the 5 Month Anniversary (France Version)

*The is a tradition, I wrote a letter home on my 5 month anniversary in Japan

Dear Friends and Family Back in the States,

Writing letters are somewhat hard to do. At least for me, the kind of person, who prefers to keep certain feelings bottles up. I think I prefer postcards, where there is a bright big picture of a beautiful place, and only a tiny little section for writing. This way if the vacation is disappointing, absolutely dreadful, and a living nightmare, one only has enough room to say,
“How are you? [Name of place] is lovely. Weather could be better, but no worries. I had a little a mishap with the Seafood, but am feeling great now. Wish you were here! Miss you lots! Love Always.”

It is sort of like the doctrine deeply imbedded into our manners, which is the response to, “How are you?”


Even though I am sick as a dog, my husband just lost his job, little Jimmy might have a learning disability, or I ran out of gas five minutes before the meeting that would determine my future.

Some things are easier just being kept up inside, being shielded from letting the world know our little troubles here and there. Answering fine, or scribbling down some false crap about our vacation from hell, just seems easier to do.
The view from the top of Fixin.
But I am not going to do that.

It had been five months since I landed at Charles de Gaulle International Airport to commence with my second year abroad as a Rotary Youth Exchange. Already, some people thought I was utterly and certifiable insane. Not many people do two exchanges abroad in other countries. Often they have just OKAY first year exchanges, and not even think about having a second go at it.

I, on the other hand, had the greatest year of my life while I lived in Kochi, Japan. I know a lot of people have a hard time understanding why I loved Japan so much, the language is ridiculously complicated and the culture is unfathomably different. But not a day or an hour passes that I do not think about that country and those people that I fell in love with over the course of one year.

The view from the top of Kochi.
I signed up for a second exchange, knowing that nothing could hold a candle to that first year in
Japan, but that I was mature enough to differentiate my experiences and take the best from both. And frankly, I have a done a good job at it. France and Japan are so immensely and absurdly different, that comparing the two is like comparing chocolate ice cream and an onion.

But here I am in France, after 5 months, and writing a letter home. I have a million things to say, but I am going to be bluntly honest.

I do not love France. I can not look down the road in 5 years and see myself here happily existing and living my life. I fight a daily struggle with the French language, which if you can believe or not, is harder than Japanese. I studied French for a year in high school, and more importantly, I can read the alphabet. Yet, my French is not as good as my Japanese was at this point in my Japanese adventure. And while, that would not bother me too much, I am often reminded that my speaking skills are poor by the French. Everyday, I make a silly mistake, and get laughed at by classmates, bus drivers, and random people on the street. Sure, it is funny the first 60 times that it happens, but then it gets embarrassing, and I find myself avoiding speech at all costs.

Things get old fast. I am tired of being around people who firmly believe they know more about America than I do. I can not believe I am saying this, but the more people tell me that all Americans eat Big Macs three times a day, the more patriotic I get. I am also almost at the point where I can no longer count on my fingers how many times I have missed school because of strikes. I am all for the power of the people, and one’s right to fight for however much one is worth. But it can, and has gotten a little ridiculous. And I am tired of feeling stupid with each passing day. It started with the language, and the daily snicker about my poor pronunciation. But it has progressed to sitting in a restaurant and being harassed by a waiter, who clearly does not like his job. Or being called rude because I do not understand how the cultural bisous greeting works, and with whom you are supposed to exchange kisses with and with whom you are only supposed to shake hands.
The pursuit of pleasure, of the French Dream.

Instead, it is best to say that I like France A LOT, and a year experience here is perfect. And I am just about halfway through my exchange here to France (I have not submitted my date for return just yet, however, but I am aiming for mid-July.) I still have a lot more to do and see and experience.

What I love about France can not easily be described in just a few words. What I love is the French unofficial life motto to live by following and pursuing pleasure. Think about it, they get 5 weeks paid vacation each year, and a multitude of holidays. And what do they do? They travel and explore. No one stays at home for vacation. In addition, the French will not put anything into their mouth that is not appetizing and incredibly delicious. This is probably why they have the world’s most renowned cuisine. And do not even get me started about the wine and cheese. Life does not get much better.

But I do not think I could live in France for the rest of my life. Of course, my two years as an
Maybe I am not French and never will be. But I can
and am changing.
exchange student, has taught me that you as a person change so much during your year abroad. It is no longer hypocrisy, there is only change. So I am willing to concede that in 2 months, or maybe at the end of the year, I will be back here declaring that France is the only country for me. But I say the same thing about America, or at least the place I grew up in my country, the place I know I can not stay in for the rest of my life. I figure that you can love a place at a distance, but living there is just something else.

As for Japan? Yes, I could see myself living there for the rest of life. However, life over there is far more difficult for a foreigner than in France and America. Living in Japan and being Japanese is not the same thing. Even if I threw away my American passport and became Japanese, I would always be a ‘gaijin’ because the blood that runs through my veins is not Japanese. France and America do not have the blood and ethnics restrictions.

So, what’s it goin’ be then, eh?

There is another reason why I am here in France writing this letter, and not sitting at a desk in Davis, California, studying as a University student. I did not know what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life. And I thought -- maybe, just maybe -- another year in a foreign country will make things clearer, and I will know exactly what I am supposed to do, where I am supposed to go, and who I am supposed to be.

I am still on that quest.

Best Wishes,
Julie Garner